Dec. 6 - A rare glimmer of positive data on the French economy is seen in the government's latest budget figures, which show its budget deficit narrowing. The announcement comes as French President Hollande tells the Africa-France summit that France plans to double its aid to the continent, which it sees as offering huge bilateral trade potential. David Pollard reports.
Paris plays host to the Africa-France summit. And on the first day of the gathering, pays its respects to one of Africa's greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela. Plans for a major charm offensive towards Africa were already announced before the summit began. President Hollande pledging to win back business from rivals like China. (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE SAYING: "If we're only looking at the interests of France, we can estimate that 200,000 jobs could be created in five years if we doubled our exports to the African continent. So that's my objective. France must double its trade with Africa.'' Aid would also be doubled - to around 20 billion euros over the next five years. Doubling trade would take that to around 60 billion. It would still only mean catching up lost ground. Between 2000 and 2011, France's exports to sub-Saharan Africa fell by more than half. China multiplied its exports to the region by a factor of eight. As the summit got underway, there was positive news on France's own trading position. A narrowing in the trade deficit of nearly a billion euros over the previous month - as well as a drop in the budget deficit of nearly nine billion over a year ago. But after a slew of recent negative data and a debt downgrade, real recovery still appears a distant prospect. Patrick Moonen of ING Investment Management. (SOUNDBITE) (English) Patrick Moonen, ING Investiment Management, saying: ''France is lacking the willingness to do the reforms and is losing some competitiveness especially relative to, for example, Spain. So France is a market we do not like for the time being.'' What France likes about Africa is its huge size - a market of nearly a billion people. And a vibrant growth rate that averages five percent across the continent - comfortably above the 0.1 percent France hopes to see this year.